from Abby Whiteside:

Power must be so snug that it chokes out of the fingers.

Faulty coordination always involves overactivity in articulation.

Most technical difficulties which persist are the result of reaching with the fingers for key position. This reaching with the fingers practically insures that the fingers will act independently of the arm – they will get there first; and when they do they furnish the power for tone. Then it is that no feeling of complete efficiency in playing ever appears. Fingers have been publicized as the all-efficient tool for playing. They should be publicized as simply the periphery of the playing mechanism.

music for everyday living – between the mundane + the mystical

  • Satie – Nocturnes, Sports et divertissement

  • Cage – ASLSP, Etudes Australes

  • Kurtág – Jatékók

  • Crane – Birthday Piece for Michael Finnissy, Derridas, Kierkegaards, Piano Piece No. 23 “Ethiopian Distance Runners”

  • Janáček – On an Overgrown Path

  • Beglarian – A Book of Days

  • Federico Mompou – Música callada

  • Bach – The Well-Tempered Clavier

  • Spiegel – piano pieces

  • Otte – Stundenbüch

a new recording of my friend Haosi Howard Chen’s new piece, SEHNSÜCHTE. look at that handsome mug!

this was recorded with a Zoom mic placed inside the piano – the percussive sounds of the pedals (some desired, some squeaks undesired but lovable) and the subtle resonance effects are much more pronounced here than on a live recording. there’s a lo-fi intimacy to the sound quality that I think is not inappropriate for the piece, which I find movingly inward.

now, on the other side of my master’s recital, thinking about programming for further solo recitals. what are they good for? what would be an idea that necessitates the intimacy of this format?

revisiting this wonderful set by Federico Mompou – they’re subtler, more moving than I remember. fragile, music for being alone – listening to a performance of this feels like we are privy to someone’s deeply interior world; diary entries? (going along with the beautiful Cagean idea of music as a way of waking up to the life we live – “normal music” for the sacred procedure of living day-by-day)

it’s 3:18am and I can’t fall (back) asleep and I’m reminded of that one time when we were high school freshmen when a friend of mine asked “do you ever just lie in bed and think about the future and get really really scared?” and how it’s wild to think we (first) had this thought at least ten years of our lives ago

in the winter the sun sets so much earlier and up here it just feels like afternoon all day, and it’s kind of beautiful but it makes me wistful and sad too, which reminds me of that Anne Carson poem that starts, “Beauty makes me hopeless,” and it makes sense to me in that sometimes beautiful things take me out of the general malaise and troubles of daily living, or at least allow me to put some distance between them and myself, and it’s wistful and sad that beauty cannot actually make them disappear forever, or bring back a time before they took shape in the first place, or last forever itself, no matter how much I wish it so or feel it so in the moment

and that reminds me of that Dorothea Lasky poem about writing poems – making “art” or whatever – to hold on to things, and I didn’t really get that until recently, and I hope this year and onward to learn to do this too, because otherwise beauty can only make me hopeless, but if putting it into things or making it myself makes me kind of hopeful, even if only temporarily, maybe these afternoon-days won’t all feel so short

January 2018

my 2018 was largely defined by my relationship with "my work" (i.e. music-making), which has both challenged and rewarded me in greater measures than ever previously.

I say "my work" because it's somewhat new and somewhat strange to me to be thinking about music as such. I don't know what I really thought it all "was" before it gradually became "work". practicing, rehearsing, composing, recording, engraving, accompanying, teaching, website editing, making money – no matter how intense, I had always felt they were all satellite activities to each other, and so for a long time I felt my time and energy were infinite and expendable to pour into one or another.

it was startling to me just how quickly this came to feel less and less possible this year: whereas once I felt I was never "really" working, I began this year to feel I was really always working, or thinking about working. I still don't know exactly how to tell people what I do in my "free time" because I feel like whatever I have of it (it's always either more or less than I think) I am always trying to fill it with (explicitly music-related) "productivity".

one the one hand, the year was indeed massively productive: I had the pleasure being involved in a number of deeply meaningful projects (some "big" and personally "threshold-raising"), I wrote more music than I ever have since I graduated with my degree in doing just that, and have even been able to cover most of my living expenses (imagine that!). many of the friendships made and deepened through all these endeavors I'll treasure for a lifetime.

on the other, it has left me feeling rather tired (the "good kind of tired", but even that can be in excess), and rather unrelatable outside of music – a troubling irony, as I feel strongly that music should rejuvenate, and bring people together as people. it's all made me wonder "Who I Am" aside from what I "Do", and, in a medium as humane as music, whether even my music-making can be relatable.

I'm flattered when my friends tell me they are happy to see me pursuing "my passion". it's not always a noble or glamorous way of living, but it's all too easy for me to forget that it's still certainly one of great privilege, and one I'm still devoted to following. however I hope to be able to cultivate, in the new year and beyond, clearer notions of work (and music as and as not) and self that will make both of them sustainable, and even synergistic with each other.

the only two movies I’ll remember watching this year are Hedwig and the Angry Inch, Roma, and the masterpiece below

some scattered thoughts on playing Music for 18 Musicians

  • I feel most tuned in when, on some level, I feel as if the sound I hear someone else making is somehow being made by myself

    • in particular, the hocket between pianos 1 and 2 feels best when, playing the eighth notes tenuto, the release of the chord feels as if it triggers the other player’s attack.

    • whither that piano hocket? is it just about creating the composite sound? Reich goes out of his way to really ask for that hocket rather than the LRLRLR/RLRLRL ossia; one perhaps is concern for the involved muscles – is it easier on the body to just play one chord at a time rather than alternate? – but I also think once locked in, it may keep the players more mentally present, and more accountable, moment to moment, for the rhythmic integrity. that part shouldn’t be “easy”, neither do I think it should appear easy, but I do think it should appear effortless – an outward expression of a constant alertness.

  • as a pianist – the tenuto articulation is key to the rhythmic integrity of the piece, even in ostinato/melodic figures. by treating each eighth note as an on/off switch, a system of “latches” is created that keeps the machine running.

  • every part has a very specific function in the ensemble, carrying specific responsibilities and dependencies.

    • marimba 1 appears the engine of the entire piece. however, the steadiness of marimba 1 seems in part to depend on the ostinato patterns of marimba 3.

    • between the pianos, piano 3 has the most melodic material – a sibling to the xylophones. piano 4 is mostly ostinato patterns – tethered to marimba 3

    • first clarinetist has a part just as important as the vibraphonist, in terms of moving the proceedings along.

    • and so on

  • the entropic force of the piece is the tendency of the tempo to drag. this is has been most apparent in Section IX; in previous rehearsals, Section VI. I wonder if different performing groups have different “weak sections”.

  • the anatomy of the “waves” in the Pulses section is actually more precise than I had ever been led to believe: indeed there is a specifically engineered klangfarbenmelodie effect that requires the ensemble members to carefully coordinate the peaks of their respective swells so as to sound like one large billowing gesture.

  • a lot of the klangfarbenmelodie went unnoticed in all my years of knowing the recording. playing in the ensemble and noticing how, for example, the voices modulate to the violin sound in Section IV, ameliorates so much of my disorientation about the larger structure of the piece.

Essence (2018)
text by Helen Hofling
for speaking pianist

Rituals
by Helen Hofling

Whenever I go to the kitchen I squeeze an avocado.
It doesn’t make a sound.
It is always the same avocado.
Even when it grows soft, it is never ripe.

I am sick from my life.
Blank statements are almost never bold,
but at least you can
throw a sheet over the parts you don’t like.
Pretend you are the avocado.

Avocado skins are poisonous to birds, I hear,
a poison that can leach into the meat of the fruit.
Do not feed avocado meat to your parrot.

At tea, I poured a ghost back and forth
from one cup to another
like an egg.
It made the sound of beating wings.
Pretend you are the ghost.

What did it feel like,
separating body from spirit?

Screen Shot 2018-12-14 at 10.56.04 PM.png

December 2018

This just in! A live recording of my November performance of Per Nørgård’s brain-teaser toccata, “Achilles and the Tortoise”.

This Illusion Meant Something (2018)
(or, “Bert and Ernie Go Looking for Answers”)
solo piano

“I am growing up she thought,” she thought… “I am losing some illusions, perhaps to acquire new ones.”

Virginia Woolf, from Orlando

“It’s like poetry. It’s what you need it to be.”

Mark Saltzman (as quoted by the New York Times), former Sesame Street writer, on whether Bert and Ernie are gay

Screen Shot 2018-10-09 at 3.00.30 PM.png

The first few minutes of this piece are played exclusively on white keys. Music on only the white keys sometimes carries associations of naïvety, simplicity, innocence, childlikeness, purity. On the other hand, it is alternating groups of two and three black keys that give the hand the most immediate sense of orientation on the keyboard – playing on only the white keys, you have to rely more on your ears and eyes to not get lost on the keyboard’s topography.

Through the course of the piece, the black keys are “found”, changing musical frames of reference – bringing the music places both more definite and more ambiguous.

October 2018

First recording by myself, October 2018:

Premiere by Richard Valitutto, April 17, 2019 (Cornell University):

fave tracks of the summer:

MAY
"City Looks Pretty" – Courtney Barnett
"One by One" – Connie Converse

JUNE
"Ghost Town" – Kanye West
"Mother" – Vashti Bunyan
"Glow Worms" – Vashti Bunyan
"It's Okay to Cry" – SOPHIE
"Faceshopping" – SOPHIE
"VYZEE" – SOPHIE
"Someone to Call My Lover" – Janet Jackson

JULY
"See Our Lake" – Laurence Crane
"飞 (Fly)" – Faye Wong
"Pendulum" – Broadcast
"Beehive" – Errollyn Wallen

AUGUST
"The Rainbow Connection" – as sung by Kermit the Frog
"Washing Machine Heart" – Mitski
"Majesty" – Nicki Minaj (ft. Labrinth + Eminem)
"Come See About Me" – Nicki Minaj
"sweetener" – Ariana Grande
"REM" – Ariana Grande
"Messy" – Eva. B. Ross

some memorable passages/quotes from This Little Art (Kate Briggs)

  • Perhaps there is one answer. One general answer, one very spare answer, the one most likely to be the most broadly true of anyone who has experienced the desire to write. That answer would be: I write because I have read. – p. 99
  • The effort to reach for the general in such a way as to neither reduce nor crush, in the hope that no one will feel reduced or crushed, and so in such a way as to make no promise of a final theory, no totalizing claim with respect to the shared questions that the lecture courses were, nevertheless, deeply invested in asking was, for Barthes, a way of trying, 'in one's teaching, to attenuate the power and the arrogance of language; to analyse dogmatism, and to try not to practice it oneself,'... – p. 113
  • The desire to write comes (is the feeling you get) from certain readings: the kind of reading that agitates you into making a trace of itself. Or to put it another way, and reaching a little further for an answer to his outrageous, unanswerable question, Barthes arrives at the following claim: 'to want to write is to want to rewrite', he says. And then: 'Every beautiful work, or even every work to make an impression, every impressive work, functions as a desired work, but I would say, and it's here that it starts to get interesting, that every work I read as desirable, even as I am desiring it, I experience as incomplete and somehow lost, because I didn't do it myself, and I have to in some way retrieve it by redoing it; in this way, to write is to want to rewrite: I want to add myself actively to that which is beautiful and that I lack; as we might put it with an old verb: that I require.' – . 115
  • Is this what closeness looks like?
    The lady translator, shouting vowels at her ceiling in preparation for speaking out loud, out of a concern to protect her reading relationship, to not have it publicly queried and thereby taken away from her. Out of an anxiety that the audience might very well find grounds to question her claim to familiarity, her sense of being spoken to by that work, from the instant they hear her speak, or fail to speak, of it.
    To speak, that is, of the late work of a critic, theorist and writer whose very last piece of writing, the one that was left on his desk on the day of the accident that led to his death, was titled: 'One Always Fails in Speaking of What One Loves.'
    Or, in an alternative translation: we always fail to speak of what we love.
    Or alternatively again: you (a general you that includes me, the you we use in English, sometimes, to embrace both you and me),
    you always fail to speak, when you speak of what you love. – p. 178
  • This is what writing is, says Barthes. I would say: this is what writing is. This is what the actual setting down of writing as distinct from the fantasy of writing is: a kind of catch or halt or temporary immobilization in the run of culture. – p. 191
  • The middle-class maiden's productivity, practising in her own private amateur mode, is of value because she represents – she both enacts and represents – one of the ways in which things get made to move, how forms travel, how they get tried out, passing from body to body, from the public sphere into private and back again. Reading Chassain's discussion, I am struck by a line he quotes from a very early review Barthes wrote of a chamber music concert: 'A society is beautiful only to the extent that there's a natural circulation between the works of great men and the intimate life of its individuals and its homes.' – p. 218
  • (of translation) – 'One can sit down at one's table every morning at the same hour, assured of giving birth to something. Of course, the quality and quantity of daily production can vary, but the nightmare of the blank page is, for its part, definitively exorcised...' – p. 252
  • (of creative liberties in translation) – ...I always seem to eventually come back round to thinking: the constraints on how far I can go, the limits on my making-up... the limits on doing what I want, are what interest me. – p. 253
  • According to Pye, a more productive set of criteria for evaluating the quality of workmanship – more productive that the commonly used 'good' and 'bad', 'precise' and 'rough' – would be 'soundness' and 'comeliness'. Soundness, he writes, implies 'the ability to transmit and resist forces', while comeliness 'the ability to give the aesthetic expression which the designer intended'. Or, indeed, 'to add to it'. He goes on: 'in some cases precision is necessary to soundness, but in many others it is not, and rough workmanship will do the job just as well. In some cases precision is necessary to the intended aesthetic expression but in others it is not and, on the contrary, rough workmanship is essential to it.' – p. 267
  • What I am calling 'technique, the technical' in writing, says Barthes, is basically the experience of writing itself... An experience, he claims, that is always 'moral and humble'. This is where technical and – to the extent that the technical aspects of writing are always directed towards, always aspiring to an aesthetic – aesthetic concerns intersect with the ethical aspects of writing...
    Moral, perhaps, in the sense that Barthes gives to 'modest', or 'non-arrogant'....
    I'm not identifying with the prestigious author of a monumental work of literature, says Barthes, I'm identifying with the writer-as-labourer – now tormented, now exalted, but in all events – modest – – p. 270
  • 'I did it because there is a residue: residue = nothing more to say than the fact itself: that which one can posit, state, say, tell: we enter the discourse of the anecdote.' – p. 334
  • The demand to come up with a new, unexpected – some unforeseen – variation, in light of these new circumstances, taking a measure of how things are – this demand, wrote Barthes, is the demand of literature. This is its 'precious indirection'. Indeed, 'it is only by submitting to its law that I may communicate what I mean with exactitude; in literature as in private communication, to be least "false" I must be most "original", or if you prefer, indirect.' – p. 356

What goes unsaid (2017-18)
for voice and small mixed ensemble
text by Claudia Rankine (from Citizen)

Words work as release; well-oiled doors opening and closing between intention, gesture. A pulse in the neck, the shiftiness of hands, an unconscious blink, the conversations you have with your eyes translate everything and nothing. What will be needed, what goes unfelt, unsaid, what has been duplicated, redacted here, redacted there, altered to hide or disguise. Words encoding the bodies they cover.

And despite everything, the body remains.

Occasionally, it is interesting to think about the outburst if you would just cry out –

To know what you'll sound like is worth noting –

First performance at MISE-EN_PLACE, Brooklyn, NY (4/13/2018):
Amber Evans, voice
Ford Fourqurean, bass clarinet
Issei Herr, cello
Sam Zagnit, bass
Humay Gasimzade, piano
Caitlin Cawley, vibraphone

Additional performances by Verdant Vibes in Providence, RI (12/14/2018) and Newport, RI (12/16/2018)
Stephanie Lamprea, voice
Chuck Furlong, bass clarinet
Zan Berry, cello
Jacob Richman, bass
Kirsten Volness, keyboard
Piero Guimaraes, vibraphone

Appendix

A REPOSITORY OF THE WITHDRAWN

Music of mine that I would rather not have performed, but that I would still like to acknowledge as being mine in one way or another. Some of them are real landmarks for me (maggie and milly and molly and may, Violin Sonata, Concerto After Joyce, Modest Music), others have interesting ideas that I don't feel like I explored far enough to be happy with them (Figments in Fracture, Air in Slow Motion, release), and still others are rote studies that are perhaps only biographically interesting.

Ultimately this is a record for my own sake; I'd just like to concretely (even if internally) account for the pieces that I don't present **officially**.

This record includes all existing juvenilia, pieces that might warrant revision, and even some composition assignments I was once proud of. Does not include unfinished pieces, pieces I no longer have materials for, nonclassical covers and other such GarageBand essays, arrangement work for hire, voice-leading assignments... basically anything I didn't at some point consider complete.

* = performed in a non-reading setting

2018
On Hedonism – voice, piano (text by Anne Carson)

2017
seeds (China) – piano

2016
Figments in Fracture* – piano, four hands
Faded Songs III (After F. Chopin)* – string quintet (Winner of the UCLA Hugo Davise Composition Competition, as part of Faded Songs)

2015
Air in Slow Motion* – wind quintet
release* – piano (four hands)
Fifty Shades of Tremolo – open instrumentation
Modest Music– youth string orchestra
Catacombs/With the Dead in a Dead Language – orchestra (arrangement of two movements from Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition)
Paganini – orchestra (arrangement of a movement from Schumann's Carnaval)
Wallflower Prelude* – piano

2014
Prelude* – piano
Prelude – string quartet
Bichordal Etude* – piano
(untitled twelve-tone passacaglia) – viola, piano
(untitled "minimal" piece) – string quintet
Unnamed* – soprano, piano (text by William Carlos Williams)
(untitled; "I bought a new bathing suit...") – soprano, piano (text by William Carlos Williams)

2013
Passacaglia* – string quartet (revised 2015, still withdrawn)
maggie and milly and molly and may* – voice, piano (text by E. E. Cummings)
in time of daffodils* – voice, piano (text by E. E. Cummings)
It Just Keeps Raining – voice, piano (text by a Craigslist client)
Short Variation on a Melody from Into the Woods – piano
Caprice – string quartet
Intermezzo – string quartet
Black is the Color – voice, guitar (later adapted for viola and piano)

2012
Five Watercolor Studies* – piano
O Magnum Mysterium – chorus
Four Watercolor Studies* – orchestra
Winds of May – voice, piano (text by James Joyce)
Fragment – cello
Minuet – violin
To Mary – piano
To Iris – piano
To Ryan and Seido – violin, viola

2011
Lianas* – violin, cello, piano (ASCAP Morton Gould Award Honorable Mention)
Three Diversions* – piano
In Memoriam Steve Jobs – baritone and piano
Four Mementos* – piano
Concerto After Joyce – flute, strings, harp (ASCAP Morton Gould Award Honorable Mention)
Toccatina – piano

2010
Violin Sonata* – violin, piano (ASCAP Morton Gould Award Winner)
i like my body when it is with your* – tenor, piano
Song for L – flute

2009
Two Curiosities* – three flutes (Areon Flutes Composition Competition, Open Division, Honorable Mention
Aposiopesis (first movement lost) – three flutes (Areon Flutes Composition Competition, Open Division, Honorable Mention)
Maycomb Portrait* – flute
Maycomb Summer(*?) – flute, violin, and guitar

2008 and before
Sonata for Two Flutes and Piano – two flutes, piano
bolt* – two trumpets and piano
Scherzo – flute, piano
Salute to Shostakovich – violin, piano
Where Souls Meet Under Trees* – flute, cello
Short Unplayables, Book 1 – piano
Sky Songs* – two flutes
Pinball Etude - piano
Sealed Door (arrangement of a cue by Y. Mitsuda from Xenogears) – piano

See also...

I really feel like all my best music was somehow written by accident. I don't mean this in a self-deprecating way; the music I try to make "my finest" (which usually involves me setting out feeling like "I know exactly what I'm doing" and "having something to say") usually shows its strain.

at some point in my undergrad I tried to plan everything I wrote, and would abandon projects when I couldn't plan clearly enough, or when plans fell apart. a teacher asked me why I planned so obsessively and I said it was because I wanted to avoid feeling stuck. he told me I would get stuck anyway so I may as well just write.

perhaps I never felt the necessity enough. perhaps I needed much harder deadlines, or something to really compel me to write no matter what. then even accidents become necessary and inevitable and I would learn to accept them and to follow them in the directions that I might be surprised to take.

I have a desire, even a necessity to write – the conflicting desire is that it be "good", that it be "a statement". I should like to let that go.